Indicator Selection Influences Drift Success

Updated: Jan 14

When I was just starting out fly fishing, I was content to just put any indicator on my fly line. The task of nymphing was too daunting to be concerned with something as seemingly as arbitrary as indicator choice.

But now, after seeing countless fish physically move away from my casts as gaudy indicators were plopped over their heads, I began to examine the available options in the indicator market.

Long story short, there is no such thing as a perfect indicator. But you can carry a couple of different types to help you out in any river situation. Here is my indicator setup and how I use each type.

Small Lightning Strike Football Indicators (Top Left). These guys are my all-around favorite indicators, they are easy to apply and move as needed. I find that the line grips the rubber center well, though I have seen others lose these indicators during erratic casts, so it's important to have a controlled 10-2 cast when using these indicators. For me, they cast as if they aren’t there and land softly on the water. When I’m lazy I often use these on technical tailwaters as they don’t spook fish compared to most other options. I have even toyed with the idea of adding a hook to them, as several fish have tried to eat this indicator in riffly waters. Ultimately, they work great for small, deep or even shallow water, if used properly.

New Zealand Wool Strike Indicator Yarn (Top Middle). This system requires more rigging, as you need to pull your line through the red-handled tool, insert some wool and pull closed. A small piece of plastic on the red-handled tool slides down over the line and holds the wool in place. This rig casts the softest and is best used for very skittish fish or on still water. I prefer white wool, but I also have orange. I use this setup mostly for small fly winter nymphing, as I don’t suspect they could hold up a stonefly very well. One word of warning, you do need to treat the wool with floatant before use as it can become bogged down, especially in riffles.

I make my own yarn indicators with rubber O-rings and watershed-treated poly yarn (Bottom Left). These are great if you are fishing emergers and want to tie clinch knots right off your indicator to fish shallow rigs. They are another soft landing option and I really like the direct connection option here. I can angle the tippet at a 90-degree angle off the indicator for better drifts. I carry dark grey indicators for when the glare is bad and tying my own gives me that kind of customization in size and color.

Finally, make room for a selection of Thingamabobbers and Airflo screw-top indicators (Bottom Middle + Right Row). They float very high and can support more weight than my other options making these indicators most suited for larger rivers or higher flows like during the spring runoff season. My go-to color is always white, but with sun glare and water reflections, I am not afraid to use brighter colors. I usually reserve orange/red for when I am having the hardest time following along. As many fishermen know, the Thingamabobbers kink your line when connected to the leader, but on stiff leaders, that doesn’t bug me. I can fix the kink by stretching out the line with a good tug at the end of the day. On the other hand, the screw tops have two pieces, meaning you can lose something. These indicators also cast the worst so I’ll save this option for the heaviest water or largest streamers.